Water connects us all.
Water is something every single person needs, and has a right to. Around the world, communities are organizing to keep their water clean, safe, affordable and public.
That’s why we were honored to partner with the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador (CISPES) to bring Norma Patricia Ramos Castro to Baltimore, to talk about her work.
She’s been traveling the country, sharing her story and her experiences organizing for environmental justice in El Salvador.
Norma grew up on the outskirts of San Salvador, in a municipality with a long history of radical organizing. She was shaped by the popular organizing in her community, and became involved with local groups. In 2009, she was involved in the historic electoral campaigns where the left organized to end more than 20 years of right-wing political power. Now she’s organizing with the Popular Resistance Movement - October 12 (MPR-12) in order to protect the human right to water, as well as food sovereignty.
Organizing Insights from El Salvador
Currently, there are many places across El Salvador where the water infrastructure doesn’t function at all, so families are left without running water. But, privatization would just cause the price of water service to skyrocket, causing water service to be unaffordable and leading to water shutoffs for many people.
“Water is life,” Norma said. “The streams, the rivers and oceans — it’s all natural. It’s impossible for someone to be an owner of something natural.”
However, the right-wing party has been pushing legislation to privatize El Salvador’s water service for years. They’ve had the votes to pass it.
But Norma and the MPR-12 have gone “neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street” to educate community members about the threat to their water, and mobilizing them to take action.
They’ve lobbied elected officials, and as a result have blocked any privatization legislation from passing. Now, they’re working to elect even more left-wing candidates to their legislature, so they can pass a law to prohibit water privatization.
Norma’s story from El Salvador’s fight for the right to water rings true for us here in Baltimore.
Connecting To Baltimore
Baltimore’s water infrastructure is aging and needs major upgrades. With the lack of federal funding to support these improvements, the burden is falling on ratepayers. The water rates in Baltimore have more than quadrupled since 2000, and right now many families are paying 8 percent or more of their household income on their water bills.
When people can’t afford to pay, the city can shut off their water, or place a tax lien on their property. The Department of Public Works barely offers any help -- the most help that families can get is a one time credit of $216 if you’re already behind on your bills. Sometimes, that’s only a small portion of what people owe.
Norma highlighted that many people in El Salvador see the United States as a place that other countries should replicate with regard to laws that ensure the rights of people.
“After hearing about what they do in Baltimore,” Norma said. “I’m going to go home and tell my friends that this standard isn’t true. We have an advantage in El Salvador: they can’t sell your house over a water bill. So that’s pretty good.”
“I’m going to go home and tell my friends that this standard isn’t true. We have an advantage in El Salvador: they can’t sell your house over a water bill. So that’s pretty good.”
She’s right. The way that Baltimore Department of Public Works is running the water system like a business has priced-out families of water service, only to subject them to cruel collections methods. It deserves no respect.
Whether it’s fighting privatization, or working to make water service more affordable, Norma shared that the most important thing to do is organize. Political decisions can ruin, or restore a place. The only thing that will influence the outcome of these decisions is organizing.
When people participate in the legislative process and work to hold their representatives accountable to make decisions that will benefit people in the community, big things are possible. In the global struggle to secure the human right to water, we must collaborate and learn from each others fights in order to win.